The Lebanese man who helped NASA find 7 Earth-like planets

Taking us one step closer to finding aliens.

April 2, 2017

In February this year, a study published in the journal Nature claimed that astronomers had found at least seven Earth-like planets. The findings were also announced at a news conference at the NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The seven planets are said to be similar in size and mass to Earth and could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life. Moreover, the planets, located about 40 light-years away from ours, orbit around the same star – an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1.

The planets are estimated to be rocky rather than gaseous like Jupiter. Three out of the seven planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface. The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f, in particular, is the best candidate for supporting life.

Shifting planets is still a long way away, but you can’t deny that it is good news. Especially when you consider the fact that Donald Trump is doing everything he can to ruin this one. Most recently, the American President signed an executive order that seeks to suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels.

Among the many astronomers who brought us this piece of news is Lebanese astronomer George Helou. Helou who currently serves as the Executive Director of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), Deputy Director of the Spitzer Science Center and Director of the NASA Herschel Science Center, grew up in Lebanon and attended the American University of Beirut (AUB) before leaving for the US to pursue his doctorate.

Shortly after the discovery became public, Helou told MTV Lebanon: “Spitzer played a leading role and my centre enabled its use, which ultimately helped us get the needed results… This is the first time we find a system that contains 6 or 7 planets that resemble the Earth in size and composition … they may contain water, and maybe even life, we hope.”

For the uninitiated, Spitzer is an infrared space telescope launched in 2003. It facilitated the discovery of five extra planets after the initial finding was made by the Belgian operated Trappist telescope in Chile, which lends its name to the system. 

With the help of the Trappist and Spitzer telescope, Helou and his team of astronomers hope to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.